Earlier this month, in the co-main event of UFC 238 in Chicago, Kyrgyzstan’s Valentina Shevchenko defended the UFC flyweight title with a beautiful head kick knockout of challenger Jessica Eye. Shortly after this dazzling victory, she received a congratulatory phone call from Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov.
This isn’t the first this has happened, but it was still a pretty special moment for the flyweight champ.
“It was all right after the victory, that same night, it was literally like few minutes after the fight and I was doing some media stuff,” Shevchenko recalled on the latest episode of BJPenn.com Radio. “He called me, he congratulated me, he said that the whole country [was watching] the fight and they’re very happy, and the whole government, they were looking at the fight. So it was very nice to hear him.”
“I’m training every time for [the people of Kyrgyzstan], to make them proud of me, and of course to make a good fight, good show for all the fans who are watching the fight,” she added. “When you are getting this kind of reaction, it’s very, very nice and it’s kind of motivation to keep up the same hard training and try to be successful.”
Valentina Shevchenko continued, explaining that the UFC is currently booming in popularity in Kyrgyzstan, thanks in part to the deep-rooted popularity of a traditional martial art called Kulatuu.
“Kyrgyzstan’s people, they’re huge fans of UFC [and] of martial arts,” she said. “And we have a national sport — it’s like MMA — called Kulatuu. This sport, every person, they can go to the Institute of Physical Culture and they can learn it there and have a professional coach. That’s why every person, every single man, he was doing martial arts, and that’s why they respect UFC.”
Even children in Kyrgyzstan have caught the martial arts fever, she says.
“Every time [there is a] competition or some professional fights, even now for example, every national championship, they have huge amount of participants and children, adults, girls, boys. Every time it’s 400, 700 participants there competing. That’s why it’s very nice to know that this sport is number one over there.”
Given the popularity of MMA and related sports like Kulatuu in Kyrgyzstan — and of course her own popularity in the country — Valentina Shevchenko says she would love to bring a UFC event to the capital city of Bishkek. The Bishkek metropolitan area is well developed, and home to more than a million people.
“It would be so great!” Shevchenko said of a potential UFC card in Kyrgyzstan. “It would be like a dream fight over there because I know whole country will travel to the capital to watch this event, and everybody would be very excited, so I hope that in the future we will get this chance.”
Given the UFC’s recent forays into nearby countries like Russia and China, Kyrgyzstan certainly seems like a possible destination for the promotion in the future. Do you think Valentina Shevchenko can bring the UFC to her home country?
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 6/19/2019.